Soames, nude by saul leiter
3 min

Monochrome And Overpainted Nudes Of The Fashion Photographer Saul Leiter

3 min

The subject of our current article, American artist and self-taught photographer Saul Leiter (1923-2013), is known as a pioneer of color photography. In the late 1950s, he contributed to many iconic fashion magazines, namely Esquire, Harper's Bazaar, Show, Elle, British Vogue, Queen, and Nova. Leiter's street shots turn urban fussiness into an elegant collage or abstract composition of shapes and colors. His legacy counts for thousands of images, including monochrome and color nudes. Expressively overpainted, the resting females become seductive odalisques.

Harlem by Saul Leiter

Fig. 1. Harlem, 1960 (

Soames Bantry, Nova by Saul Leiter

Fig. 2. Soames Bantry, Nova, 1960 (

Iris Bianchi, Harper’s Bazaar

Fig. 3. Iris Bianchi, Harper’s Bazaar, 1961 (

Left: Saul Leiter, Untitled ; right: Kawase Hasui, Snow at Toshogu Shrine

Fig. 4. Left: Saul Leiter, Untitled (; right: Kawase Hasui, Snow at Toshogu Shrine, ca. 1930s (

Between Religion And Art

Saul Leiter was born in the family of a Talmud scholar. The origin naturally led him to a career in theology. Leiter attended the theological college of Cleveland until he turned 22. Interested in painting since his late teens, he eventually chose another path to god, unconventional yet promising. In 1946, he moved to New York City to become a painter. Shortly after, Leiter met Richard Pousette-Dart, an abstract artist who also experimented with photography. This acquaintance, along with many others, influenced Leiter to create abstract paintings and work with a camera. Two years after the relocation, the artist attempted to color photography sometimes using the expired Kodachrome 35 mm film.

Abstract painting by Saul Leiter

Fig. 5. Abstract painting by Leiter (

Abstract painting by Saul Leiter

Fig. 6. Abstract painting by Leiter (

Test shot for lingerie, Harper’s Bazaar by Saul Leiter

Fig. 7. Test shot for lingerie, Harper’s Bazaar, 1955 (

Soames, nude by saul leiter

Fig. 8. Soames, nude, ca. 1965 (

Photograph Soames, nude by saul leiter

Fig. 9. Soames, nude, ca. 1965 (

Jay by Saul Leiter

Fig. 10. Jay, ca. 1958 (

Nude in bed reflected in mirrors by Saul Leiter

Fig. 11. Nude in bed reflected in mirrors (

The Beauty Of Simple Things

Though the main subjects of Leiter's photography were neither quite picturesque nor avant-garde (street scenes and friends), his artful approach attracted the attention of the prominent photographer and critic Edward Steichen, who included his black and white photographs in the exhibition Always the Young Strangers at the MoMA in 1953. Steichen also demonstrated some of Leiter's color images in his slide lecture "Experimental Photography in Color" at MoMA four years later. Being curious about new techniques, Saul Leiter belonged to the kind of artists who focused on everyday routine in their works instead of ignoring it. As the artist said himself, "I happen to believe in the beauty of simple things. I believe that the most uninteresting thing can be very interesting" (

nude by Saul Leiter

Fig. 12. Untitled (

In Premium more on the importance of the monograph Saul Leiter: Early Color from 2006 on the recognition of his work,  his distinctive portrayal of nudes, numerous other examples of his sensual work, and more...

Click HERE for the modern-day Renaissance sensuality of the Spanish photographer Mariano Vargas


What do you think about Leiter's photography? Leave your reaction in the comment box below...!!